Diarrheal Disease Has More Power Than It Should

Diarrheal disease
Clean drinking water, easy access to sanitization and access to decent healthcare are all things that most developed countries can rely on. In developing nations however, diarrheal disease has more power than it should.

Combatting Diarrhea

Globally, children under the age of five die every two minutes as a result of diarrhea, an occurrence that adds up to 500,000 child deaths a year. In Bangladesh however, a new hope has developed for any child struggling with diarrhea. Recently, the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) is the only diarrheal hospital in world, whose cure treats 220,000 patients a year.

The birthplace of cholera – one of the biggest and deadliest causes of diarrhea – Bangladesh sadly has too much experience and little success in dealing with diarrheal disease. The truth is diarrhea is the symptom of an infection not a disease itself. In fact, 20 percent of the patients who come in to the ICDDR,B clinic in Dhaka suffer from cholera.

Most deaths from diarrhea occur among children less than 2 years of age in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, from 2000 to 2016, the total number of deaths from diarrhea of children under 5 decreased by 60 percent.

Making Treatment Accessible

Accessibility of treatments to all children, especially in poor, rural and marginalized populations, could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year. The process has proved to be cost-effective, affordable and straightforward to implement.

Over 40 percent of children under the age of 5 with diarrhea receive the recommended treatment of oral rehydration therapy and continued feeding. However, coverage of this treatment package is lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (34 percent), South Asia (37 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (39 percent). Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the regions with the most deaths from diarrheal disease.

Disease to Mortality

Diarrheal disease is a detrimental cause of child mortality in the world that stems from contaminated food and water sources. Globally, 780 million individuals don’t have access to improved drinking water and 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation.

In the lowest income countries, children under three experience an average of three episodes of diarrhea every year. Each time deprives them of much of the nutrition necessary for growth. Diarrheal disease has more power than it should, especially with prevention and treatment so readily available.

Steps For Diarrhea Prevention

  • Access to safe drinking-water
  • Use of improved sanitation
  • Hand-washing with soap
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
  • Good personal and food hygiene
  • Health education about how infections spread
  • Rotavirus vaccination.

Diarrhea Treatments

  • Rehydration: Oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution is a mixture of clean water, salt and sugar. It costs a few cents per treatment, and is absorbed in the small intestine to replace water and electrolytes lost in feces.
  • Zinc supplements: Zinc supplements reduce the duration of a diarrhea episode by 25 percent and are associated with a 30 percent reduction in stool volume.
  • Rehydration: Rehydration is essential, especially with intravenous fluids in case of severe dehydration or shock.
  • Nutrient-Rich foods: The vicious circle of malnutrition and diarrhea can be broken by continuing to give nutrient-rich foods – including breast milk – during an episode, and by giving a nutritious diet – including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life – to children when they are well.
  • Consulting a health professional: In particular for management of persistent diarrhea or when there is blood in stool or  signs of dehydration.

No one should have to suffer from poverty, least of all children. Hunger, fear and disease are big parts of poverty that can fortunately change, especially when one knows tools and procedures are available to help.

– Gustavo Lomas
Photo: Flickr